My favorite childhood book
I loved anything with talking or thinking animals — A.A. Milne, the Narnia novels, Doctor Dolittle, Wind in the Willows, and the great collections of Peanuts strips. This seems a little strange now, given that I was afraid of dogs and that my parents didn’t let me have any pets except for hamsters and turtles, which I didn’t love, and which were always dying on me.
The book I enjoyed most in school
Probably Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, in eighth grade. It made me a sci-fi reader for many years, and it’s an interesting book to think about even now, since it imagines the world coming to an end when its children unite to create a single global consciousness. Clarke saw this happening through telepathy, but it looks a lot like the world of social media.
The classic I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read
Moby-Dick, despite multiple attempts to get past page 50.
The classic I’ve pretended to have read
The novel people might be surprised to learn that I love
Maybe Gone With the Wind. But I have a hard time believing that anyone’s paying enough attention to me to be surprised by that.
The books I consider to be grossly overrated
It would be impolitic to answer this question honestly. I will say that I am underwhelmed by E.M. Forster’s Howards End, and that Salinger’s fiction seems to me a slender reed on which to hang the weight of world-changing genius that’s currently being ascribed to him.
My favorite movie versions of great novels
Most adaptations put me in mind of the movie reviewer who imagined the producers of Bonfire of the Vanities saying, ”There, we did it, we adapted the sucker.” But two beautiful exceptions are John Huston’s Wise Blood (from the Flannery O’Connor novel) and Paul Mazursky’s Enemies, A Love Story (from the I.B. Singer novel).
The thing that happens when I buy my own books in bookstores
I’ve bought copies of my books as presents for other writers. When I take them to the cash register, I feel a little like the happily married guy who’s buying a Penthouse: ”No, it’s not for my own use…”
The last book that made me cry — and the last one that made me laugh
It’s been a while since I cried. The ending of Halldór Laxness’ Independent People made me do it, and so did War and Peace, a while back. But just last week, rereading the opening of One Hundred Years of Solitude, I was laughing hysterically. I laughed all the way through Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette.
The eternal question: Do I read my own books after they come out?
The question reminds me of the scene in the movie Singles where the Bridget Fonda character asks the Matt Dillon character if he wishes her breasts were larger. Dillon hesitates, he’s very uncomfortable, and he finally says, ”Sometimes.”